Remember this Iowa college kid, the Eagle Scout with two moms? He just won a primary for the state senate

Zack Wahls was 19 when he came to the Iowa legislature to testify.

Now he’s 26 and a likely state senator after winning the primary last night.

It’s worth rewatching his speech and why it went so viral. Take a look, then we’ll take it apart.

A few thoughts:

He obviously practiced this speech a good amount, enough so he didn’t need to refer to his notes except for a couple of times early on.

There were a few spots where he stumbled, but those were also early. That’s an important point. If you make a few mistakes early, the audience often hopes you finish better. They root for you. And if you deliver on that, and don’t just smooth things out but finish quite strongly–like Zack did–that contrast between the beginning and end makes the speech stronger. It feels less slick.

In this speech, delivery mattered far less than the structure and emotion. As a speaker, you want to feel and express what you want your audience to feel. It would be easy and natural for him to show up angry, given the proposal he was testifying against. Anger wouldn’t be persuasive. That kind of speech wouldn’t have been effective or gone viral.

So: this speech isn’t memorable for impeccable delivery or for having beautiful phrasing, line by line.

It’s great because unless they removed your heart and replaced it with stone, you feel proud of this young man and the obvious love he has for his moms and sister.

How Obama’s 2015 State of the Union tries to break the mold

President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2015. (Official White House Photo By Chuck Kennedy)
President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2015. (Official White House Photo By Chuck Kennedy)
President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2015. (Official White House Photo By Chuck Kennedy)

State of the Union speeches are tough. Here’s why:

(1) By tradition, you have to lay out a laundry list of policy ideas.

(2) Laundry lists are inherently boring.

(3) By law, each president is required give this speech and to have guests in the audience, sitting next to the First Lady or First Man (yes, we will have a lady president one day, so this title needs to be discussed), and those people in the audience get talked about at some point in the speech. I believe Ronald the Reagan started this.

(4) Okay, giving a State of the Union speech every year is not actually a law. It’s really in the U.S. Constitution, as explained here.

(5) The audience is made up of members of Congress, which means half of them will applaud if the president successfully pronounces “America” while members of the other party will sit on their hands and sneer even if you go full Oprah on them and announce that free puppies and tax breaks for each of their districts are sitting UNDER EVERY SEAT. Continue reading “How Obama’s 2015 State of the Union tries to break the mold”